Ok so I know that any excuse I use will just sound stupid and not good enough, but here goes nothing. So school has been hectic. My teachers seem to think that I have no life outside of school and lets see, school. So sorry there and also softball season ended about a month ago and I'm having very little free time due to hw. Now add on hw and I've had hardly any time to myself let alone time to type, and I've felt horrible for weeks. So after my homework today I said enough is enough and I present you with a long overdue chapter 4. Also I included a new character in this chapter. Can you guess who?
Chapter 4: Grover Unexpectedly Loses His Pants
"Grover Unexpectedly Loses His Pants"
"Um, that's not awkward at all." Tony said slowly. Secretly I agreed with him, but I would never admit it out loud.
Confession time: I ditched Grover as soon as we got to the bus terminal.
"That's rude." Natasha said quietly.
I know, I know. It was rude.
"Oh Widowy you sound like our young friend Mr. Jackson." Tony said with a smirk.
But Grover was freaking me out, looking at me like I was a dead man, muttering "Why does this always happen?" and "Why does it always have to be sixth grade?"
"I think that any rational person would be a little freaked out by that, especially one who had no clue as to what his best friend was talking about." Bruce said logically.
Whenever he got upset, Grover's bladder acted up, so I wasn't surprised when, as soon as we got off the bus, he made me promise to wait for him, then made a beeline for the restroom. Instead of waiting, I got my suitcase, slipped outside, and caught the first taxi uptown.
"At least he didn't walk," Thor muttered under his breath, just loud enough for me to hear.
"East One-hundred-and-fourth and First," I told the driver.
A word about my mother, before you meet her.
Her name is Sally Jackson and she's the best person in the world, which just proves my theory that the best people have the rottenest luck.
"Don't you just hate it when your very bad theories are proved right? I remember a time when…" Tony started.
"Tony, just stop." I cried. He looked at me with a very distinguished smirk. I just kept reading.
Her own parents died in a plane crash when she was five, and she was raised by an uncle who didn't care much about her. She wanted to be a novelist, so she spent high school working to save enough money for a college with a good creative-writing program. Then her uncle got cancer, and she had to quit school her senior year to take care of him. After he died, she was left with no money, no family, and no diploma.
The only good break she ever got was meeting my dad.
"Aw that's sweet." Natasha murmured.
I don't have memories of him, just this sort of warm glow, maybe the barest trace of his smile.
Natasha smiled softly at that sentence.
My mom doesn't like to talk about him because it makes her sad. She has no pictures. See, they weren't married. She told me he was rich and important, and their relationship was a secret. Then one day, he set sail across the Atlantic on some important journey, and he never came back.
Lost at sea, my mom told me. Not dead. Lost at sea.
She worked odd jobs, took night classes to get her high school diploma, and raised me on her own. She never complained or got mad. Not even once. But I knew I wasn't an easy kid.
Finally, she married Gabe Ugliano, who was nice for the first thirty seconds we knew him, then showed his true colors as a world-class jerk. When I was young, I nicknamed him Smelly Gabe. I'm sorry, but it's the truth. The guy reeked like moldy garlic pizza wrapped in gym shorts.
"That's really nasty." Clint said, "I wouldn't want to ever smell that."
"Sally marrying Mr. Ugliano was a good thing, even if Perseus can not see it." Thor stated, again he didn't elaborate.
Between the two of us, we made my mom's life pretty hard. The way Smelly Gabe treated her, the way he and I got along . . . well, when I came home is a good example.
I walked into our little apartment, hoping my mom would be home from work. Instead, Smelly Gabe was in the living room, playing poker with his buddies. The television blared ESPN. Chips and beer cans were strewn all over the carpet.
"Ew." Clint muttered.
Hardly looking up, he said around his cigar, "So, you're home."
"Where's my mom?"
"Working," he said. "You got any cash?"
"What no welcome back, how was school?" I said in exasperation. Who did this guy think he was? No one needed to be treated like that.
That was it. No Welcome back. Good to see you. How has your life been the last six months?
"You two think alike." Tony said bluntly.
Gabe had put on weight. He looked like a tuskless walrus in a thrift-store clothes. He had about three hairs on his head, all combed over his bald scalp, as if that made him handsome or something.
"Ok, um, that's really, really gross." Natasha said.
He managed the Electronics Mega-Mart in Queens, but he stayed home most of the time. I don't know why he hadn't been fired long before. He just kept on collecting paychecks, spending the money on cigars that made me nauseous, and on beer, of course. Always beer. Whenever I was home, he expected me to provide his gambling funds. He called that our "guy secret." Meaning, if I told my mom, he would punch my lights out.
"What?" I asked quietly. Was this boy implying that his step father would beat him if he told his mom about his gambling problems? That was just so wrong.
"I don't have any cash," I told him.
He raised a greasy eyebrow.
"Ok that is really gross." Clint said with a sneer on his face, that didn't look natural.
Gabe could sniff out money like a bloodhound, which was surprising, since his own smell should've covered up everything else.
"Ew," Natasha complained.
"You took a taxi from the bus station," he said. "Probably paid with a twenty. Got six, seven bucks in change. Somebody expects to live under this roof, he ought to carry his own weight. Am I right, Eddie?"
Eddie, the super of the apartment building, looked at me with a twinge of sympathy. "Come on, Gabe," he said. "The kid just got here."
"Well at least this guy has some sense. He's begging his step-son for money to feed his gambling problems. How low can a guy sink?" Tony asked.
Clint and Bruce shook their heads not sure either.
"Am I right?" Gabe repeated.
Eddie scowled into his bowl of pretzels. The other two guys passed gas in harmony.
"Again I say ew." Natasha said again.
"Guys are disgusting." Clint said nonchalantly. Thor looked at Clint in shock; he just stared.
"What?" Clint asked looking at Thor.
"You're a dude, right?" Tony asked Clint. Clint nodded yes and looked confused. "Then that is so wrong. Calling guys disgusting when you are one." Tony said.
"It's true guys are gross ask anyone." Clint defended himself. Tony and Thor shook their heads and turned back towards me and the book. I took that as my queue to go on.
"Fine," I said. I dug a wad of dollars out of my pocket and threw the money on the table. "I hope you lose."
"Your report card came, brain boy!" he shouted after me. "I wouldn't act so snooty!"
"That's mean, calling your step-son with ADHD and dyslexia stupid." I muttered at the book.
I slammed the door to my room, which really wasn't my room. During school months, it was Gabe's "study."
He didn't study anything in there except old car magazines, but he loved shoving my stuff in the closet, leaving his muddy boots on my windowsill, and doing his best to make the place smell like his nasty cologne and cigars and stale beer.
I dropped my suitcase on the bed. Home sweet home.
"It could be worse Perseus, you could be stuck in Tarturus." Thor boomed.
Gabe's smell was almost worse than the nightmares about Mrs. Dodds, or the sound of that old fruit lady's shears snipping the yarn.
"That bad?" Bruce asked.
But as soon as I thought that, my legs felt weak. I remembered Grover's look of panic-how he'd made me promise I wouldn't go home without him. A sudden chill rolled through me. I felt like someone-something-was looking for me right now, maybe pounding its way up the stairs, growing long, horrible talons.
Then I heard my mom's voice. "Percy?"
She opened the bedroom door, and my fears melted away.
"Aw that so cute, he's a mama's boy." Clint said with a smile.
"Dude I am so taking back your man card." Tony said.
"Mortals have a card designating them male or female?" Thor asked. I rolled my eyes and kept on reading.
My mother can make me feel good just by walking into the room.
Her eyes sparkle and change color in the light. Her smile is as warm as a quilt. She's got a few gray streaks mixed in with her long brown hair, but I never think of her as old. When she looks at me, it's like she's been seeing all the good things about me, none of the bad.
I've never heard her voice or say an unkind word to anyone, not even me or Gabe.
"Oh, Percy." She hugged me tight. "I can't believe it. You've grown since Christmas!"
Her red-white-and-blue Sweet on America uniform smelled like the best things in the world: chocolate, licorice, and all the other stuff she sold at the candy shop in Grand Central. She'd brought me a huge bag of "free samples," the way she always did when I came home.
"Free samples? I love free samples, I want some." Tony complained to us.
We sat together on the edge of the bed. While I attacked the blueberry sour strings, she ran her hand through my hair and demanded to know everything I hadn't put in my letters. She didn't mention anything about my getting expelled. She didn't seem to care about that. But was I okay? Was her little boy doing all right?
I told her she was smothering me, and to lay off all that, but secretly, I was really, really glad to see her.
From the other room, Gabe yelled, "Hey, Sally-how about some bean dip, huh?"
I gritted my teeth.
I gritted my teeth.
My mom is the nicest lady in the world. She should've been married to a millionaire, not to some jerk like Gabe.
For her sake, I tried to sound upbeat about my last days at Yancy Academy. I told her I wasn't too down about the expulsion. I'd lasted almost the whole year this time. I'd made some new friends. I'd done pretty well in Latin. And honestly, the fights hadn't been as bad as the headmaster said. I liked Yancy Academy. I really did. I put such a good spin on the year, I almost convinced myself. I started choking up, thinking about Grover and Mr. Brunner. Even Nancy Bobofit suddenly didn't seem so bad.
"Wow way to put a positive spin on everything." Natasha said with a quirk of her eyebrow.
Until the trip to the museum . ..
"What?" my mom asked. Her eyes tugged at my conscience, trying to pull out the secrets. "Did something scare you?"
"Sure scared me." Clint muttered.
I felt bad lying.
"You should not lie to your mother Perseus." Thor said.
I wanted to tell her about Mrs. Dodds and the three old ladies with the yarn, but I thought it would sound stupid.
"Not to her." Thor muttered.
She pursed her lips. She knew I was holding back, but didn't push me.
"I have a surprise for you," she said. "We're going to the beach."
My eyes widened. "Montauk?"
"Three nights-same cabin."
She smiled. "As soon as I get changed,"
I couldn't believe it. My mom and I hadn't been to Montauk the last two summers, because Gabe said there wasn't enough money.
Gabe appeared in the doorway and growled, "Bean dip, Sally? Didn't you hear me?"
I want to punch this dude.
I wanted to punch him, but I met my mom's eyes and I understood she was offering me a deal: be nice to Gabe for a little while. Just until she was ready to leave for Montauk. Then we would get out of here.
"I was on my way, honey," she told Gabe.
"We were just talking about the trip."
Gabe's eyes got small. "The trip? You mean you were serious about that?"
"He won't let them go, watch." Bruce said quietly.
"I knew it," I muttered. "He won't let us go."
"Of course he will," my mom said evenly. "Your stepfather is just worried about money. That's all. Besides," she added, "Gabriel won't have to settle for bean dip. I'll make him enough seven-layer dip for the whole weekend. Guacamole. Sour cream. The works."
Gabe softened a bit. "So this money for your trip . . . it comes out of your clothes budget, right?"
"Sally has a clothes budget? Poor lady." Tony said sympathetically.
"Yes, honey," my mother said.
"And you won't take my car anywhere but there and back."
"We'll be very careful."
Gabe scratched his double chin. "Maybe if you hurry with the seven-layer dip . . . And maybe if the kid apologized for interrupting my poker game."
Maybe if I kick you in your soft spot, I thought. And make you sing soprano for a week.
"Do it!" Thor and Tony yelled in unison before looking at each other awkwardly.
But my mom's eyes warned me not to make him mad.
Why did she put up with this guy? I wanted to scream. Why did she care what he thought?
"I'm sorry," I muttered. "I'm really sorry I interrupted your incredibly important poker game. Please go back to it right now."
Gabe's eyes narrowed. His tiny brain was probably trying to detect sarcasm in my statement.
"Even a gorilla could find the sarcasm, so should he." I mumbled.
"Yeah, whatever," he decided.
"I stand corrected."
He went back to his game.
"Thank you, Percy," my mom said. "Once we get to Montauk, we'll talk more about . . . whatever you've forgotten to tell me, okay?"
For a moment, I thought I saw anxiety in her eyes-the same fear I'd seen in Grover during the bus ride-as if my mom too felt an odd chill in the air.
But then her smile returned, and I figured I must have been mistaken.
She ruffled my hair and went to make Gabe his seven-layer dip.
An hour later we were ready to leave.
Gabe took a break from his poker game long enough to watch me lug my mom's bags to the car, he kept griping and groaning about losing her cooking-and more important, his '78 Camaro- for the whole weekend.
"Not a scratch on this car, brain boy," he warned me as I loaded the last bag. "Not one little scratch."
"Like he'd be the one driving. He's twelve." Tony said, wildly waving his hands.
Like I'd be the one driving. I was twelve.
"Wow, we think oddly similar." Tony said oddly subdued.
But that didn't matter to Gabe. If a seagull so much as pooped on his paint job, he'd find a way to blame me.
Watching him lumber back toward the apartment building, I got so mad I did something I can't explain. As Gabe reached the doorway, I made the hand gesture I'd seen Grover make on the bus, a sort of warding-of-evil gesture, a clawed hand over my heart, then a shoving movement toward Gabe. The screen door slammed shut so hard it whacked him in the butt and sent him flying up the staircase as if he'd been shot from a cannon.
"I need to learn that." Tony yelled to Thor's amusement.
Maybe it was just the wind, or some freak accident with the hinges, but I didn't stay long enough to find out.
I got in the Camaro and told my mom to step on it.
Our rental cabin was on the south shore, way out at the tip of Long Island. It was a little pastel box with faded curtains, half sunken into the dunes. There was always sand in the sheets and spiders in the cabinets, and most of the time the sea was too cold to swim in.
I loved the place.
We'd been going there since I was a baby. My mom had been going even longer. She never exactly said, but I knew why the beach was special to her. It was the place where she'd met my dad.
As we got closer to Montauk, she seemed to grow younger, years of worry and work disappearing from her face. Her eyes turned the color of the sea.
We got there at sunset, opened all the cabin's windows, and went through our usual cleaning routine. We walked on the beach, fed blue corn chips to the seagulls, and munched on blue jelly beans, blue saltwater taffy, and all the other free samples my mom had brought from work.
"What's with the blue food? I mean is it important, or his favorite color?" Natasha asked.
I guess I should explain the blue food.
"Here's your answer Roman." Tony said.
See, Gabe had once told my mom there was no such thing.
"There is too, try blueberries dummy." Clint said to everyone's amusement.
They had this fight, which seemed like a really small thing at the time. But ever since, my mom went out of her way to eat blue. She baked blue birthday cakes. She mixed blueberry smoothies. She brought blue-corn tortilla chips and brought home blue candy from the shop. This-along with keeping her maiden name, Jackson, rather than calling herself Mrs. Ugliano was proof she wasn't totally suckered by Gabe. She did have a rebellious streak like me.
"Ya, we can tell." I said
When it got dark, we made a fire. We roasted hot dogs and marshmallows. Mom told me stories about when she was a kid, back before her parents died in the plane crash. She told me about the books she wanted to write someday, when she had enough money to quit the candy shop.
Eventually, I got up the nerve to ask about what was always on my mind whenever we came to Montauk-my father.
Mom's eyes went all misty. I figured she would tell me the same things she always did, but I never got tired of hearing them.
"That is so sweet. The kid obviously loves his father, regardless of the fact that he's never met him." Natasha said quietly with a look I'd never seen in her eyes before.
"He was kind, Percy," she said. "Tall, handsome, and powerful. But gentle, too. You have his black hair, you know, and his green eyes."
Mom fished a blue jelly bean out of her candy bag.
"Again with the blue food." I muttered.
"I wish he could see you, Percy. He would be so proud."
I wondered how she could say that. What was so great about me?
A dyslexic, hyperactive boy with D+ report card, kicked out of school for the sixth time in six years.
"Ya I can see how it would be hard to believe a father would be proud." Tony insensitively responded.
"How old was I?" I asked. "I mean . . . when he left?"
She watched the flames. "He was only with me for one summer, Percy. Right here at this beach. This cabin."
"But . . . he knew me as a baby."
"No, honey. He knew I was expecting a baby, but he never saw you. He had to leave before you were born."
I tried to square that with the fact that I seemed to remember . . . something about my father. A warm glow. A smile.
"He must have visited Perseus as a baby without Zeus knowing he did." Thor boomed. I didn't wait knowing he wasn't going to elaborate yet.
I have always assumed he knew me as a baby. My mom had never said it outright, but still. I'd felt it must be true. Now, to be told that he'd never seen me . . .
I felt angry at my father.
"Trust me kid, anger I get." Tony told the book.
Maybe it was stupid, but I resented him for going on that ocean voyage, for not having the guts to marry my mom. He'd left us, and now we were stuck with Smelly Gabe.
"Are you going to send me away again?" I asked her. "To another boarding school?"
She pulled a marshmallow from the fire.
"I don't know, honey." Her voice was heavy. "I think . . . I think we'll have to do something."
"Because you don't want me around?"
"That was really insensitive Percy. Your mother loves you." Natasha said
"Perseus! Your mother loves you! Why must you boast such falsehoods?" Thor shouted.
I regretted the words as soon as they were out.
"That is a relief." Bruce spoke up.
My mom's eyes welled with tears. She took my hand, squeezed it tight. "Oh, Percy, no. I-I have to, honey. For your own good. I have to send you away."
Her words reminded me of what Mr. Brunner had said-that it was the best for me to leave Yancy.
"Because I'm not normal," I said.
"You say that as if it's a bad thing, Percy. But you don't realize how important you are.
I thought Yancy Academy would be far enough away. I thought you'd finally be safe."
"Safe from what?"
"The Gods, you nitwit, that's who." Tony shouted waving what looked like a bottle of brandy around.
"I thought Pepper confiscated all your liquor?" Bruce asked Tony.
"She did, just not this bottle." Tony replied.
"Speaking of Pepper where is she?" Natasha asked Tony.
"I am right here Nat. Tony where did you get that liquor? Shouldn't you be working on that report for Apple? Just because Steve died doesn't mean we want that contract to fall through." Pepper said walking in red cheeked and cold.
"Pepper, I'm busy at the moment I'll work on it later." Tony wined.
"What are you so busy doing?" Pepper asked.
"Reading." Clint replied. Pepper looked shocked; she glanced between Tony and the book in my hands before rolling her eyes and sitting on the chair.
"Well if Tony is reading something it must be good, mind if I join you?"
"Not at all Pepper." I told her before continuing.
She met my eyes, and a flood of memories came back to me-all the weird, scary things that had ever happened to me, some of which I'd tried to forget.
During third grade, a man in a black trench coat had stalked me on the playground. When the teachers threatened to call the police, he went away growling, but no one believed me when I told them that under is broad-brimmed hat, the man only had one eye, right in the middle of his head.
"Um, what?" Pepper asked casually.
Before that-a really early memory. I was in preschool, and a teacher accidentally put me down for a nap in a cot that a snake had slithered into. My mom screamed when she came to pick me up and found me playing with a limp, scaly rope I'd somehow managed to strangle to death with my meaty toddler hands.
"Ok what is going on?" Pepper asked in a squeaky voice.
"I'll explain." Tony said. He leaned over and started telling Pepper what had happened. I started to read again.
In every single school, something creepy had happened, something unsafe, and I was forced to move.
I knew I should tell my mom about the old ladies at the fruit stand, and Mrs. Dodds at the art museum, about my weird hallucination that I had sliced my math teacher into dust with a sword.
But I couldn't make myself to tell her. I had a strange feeling the news would end our trip to Montauk, and I didn't want that.
"I've tried to keep you as close to me as I could," my mom said. "They told me that was a mistake. But there's only one other option, Percy-the place your father wanted to send you. And I just . . . I just can't stand to do it."
"My father wanted me to go to a special school?"
"Not a school," she said softly. "A summer camp."
My head was spinning. Why would my dad-who hadn't even stayed around long enough to see me born-talk to my mom about a summer camp?
"That does seem a little weird if you think about it. A father he's never seen or met wants him to go to that summer camp. Weird." Bruce said logically.
And if it was so important, why hadn't she ever mentioned it before?
I'm sorry, Percy," she said, seeing the look in my eyes. "But I can't talk about it. I-I couldn't send you to that place. It might mean saying good-bye to you for good."
"For good? But if it's only a summer camp . . ."
She turned toward the fire, and I knew from her expression that if I asked any more questions she would start to cry.
That night I had a vivid dream.
"No more creepy dreams please." Clint said.
It was storming on the beach, and two beautiful animals, a white horse and a golden eagle, were trying to kill each other at the edge of the surf.
The eagle swooped down and slashed the horse's muzzle with its huge talons. The horse reared up and kicked at the eagle's wings. As they fought, the ground rumbled, and a monstrous voice chuckled somewhere beneath the earth, goading the animals to fight harder.
I ran toward them, knowing I had to stop them from killing each other, but I was running in slow motion. I knew I would be too late. I saw the eagle dive down, its beak aimed at the horse's wide eyes, and I screamed, No!
I woke with a start.
"That is supper creepy. Man poor kid." Clint said with a sigh.
Outside, it really was storming, the kind of storm that cracks trees and blows down houses. There was no horse or eagle on the beach, just lightning making false daylight, and twenty-foot waves pounding the dunes like artillery.
With the next thunderclap, my mom woke. She sat up, eyes wide, and said, "Hurricane."
I knew that was crazy. Long Island never sees hurricanes this early in the summer. But the ocean seemed to have forgotten.
"He was mad, what did you expect calm waters and sunshine?" Thor said loudly.
Over the roar of the wind, I heard a distant bellow, an angry, tortured sound that made my hair stand on end.
"Oh man what is with the creepy noises and dreams? I don't want to hear about this stuff." Clint complained.
Then a much closer noise, like mallets in the sand. A desperate voice-someone yelling, pounding on our cabin door.
My mother sprang out of bed in her nightgown and threw open the lock.
Grover stood framed in the doorway against a backdrop of pouring rain. But he wasn't . . . he wasn't exactly Grover.
"How could he be not exactly Grover?" Tony asked rejoining the reading.
"Searching all night," he gasped. "What were you thinking?"
"That you scared the poor boy." I muttered quietly
My mother looked at me in terror-not scared of Grover, but of why he'd come.
"Percy," she said, shouting to be heard over the rain. "What happened at school? What didn't you tell me?"
I was frozen, looking at Grover. I couldn't understand what I was seeing.
"What is it? What is it? I want to know." Tony wined.
"Be quiet Tony." Pepper scolded him.
"O Zeu kai alloi theoi!" he yelled.
"Is that Greek?" I asked Thor.
"Yes." He replied but didn't elaborate.
"It's right behind me! Didn't you tell her?"
I was too shocked to register that he'd just cursed in Ancient Greek, and I'd understood him perfectly. I was too shocked to wonder how Grover had gotten here by himself in the middle of the night. Because Grover didn't have his pants on-and where his legs should be . . . where his legs should be . . .
My mom looked at me sternly and talked in a tone she'd never used before: "Percy. Tell me now!"
I stammered something about the old ladies at the fruit stand, and Mrs. Dodds, and my mom stared at me, her face deathly pale in the flashes of lightning.
She grabbed her purse, tossed me my rain jacket, and said, "Get to the car. Both of you. Go!"
Grover ran for the Camaro-but he wasn't running, exactly. He was trotting, shaking his shaggy hindquarters, and suddenly his story about a muscular disorder in his legs made sense to me. I understood how he could run so fast and still limp when he walked.
Because where his feet should be, there were no feet.
There were cloven hooves.
"What? What are cloven hooves?" Tony asked everyone.
"Hooves." Thor said.
"But what are CLOVEN hooves?" Tony asked again emphasizing cloven.
"Hooves." Thor said again.
"Oh my gosh, I know." Tony said exasperated.
"Then why did you ask?" Thor asked Tony. Tony stared at him like he was insane before shaking his head and leaning back in his seat.
"Who wants to read next?" I asked them.
"I will since I haven't read yet." Pepper volunteered. I handed her the book and off we went to the next chapter.
So sorry that this took so long to update, but my life has been crazy insane and I kinda forgot about this. I am glad I got this next chapter up, but I don't know when the next one will be, these are hard to write. Thank you all for sticking with me and reading on. I really appreciate that. Enjoy!